Ravens draft some line help

Mercier to challenge Flynn for starter at right guard

April 17, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens finished off their draft shopping list on Day Two by crossing off their biggest remaining offensive need and throwing in two defensive players for good measure.

They grabbed Miami (Fla.) guard Richard Mercier in the fifth round, and then polished off one of their more promising drafts by selecting Southern Mississippi defensive end Adalius Thomas and Texas defensive tackle Cedric Woodard both in the middle of the sixth round.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, expects Mercier to compete with third-year reserve Mike Flynn for the starting job at right guard. Thomas and Woodard will provide depth to a defensive front that was the team's deepest unit last season.

These three picks came a day after the Ravens checked off two offensive priorities when they drafted running back Jamal Lewis and receiver Travis Taylor in the first round. They ended the first day by plucking their possible quarterback of the future, Chris Redman, who fell to the third round.

"It would have been very ambitious to look at what we have finished with and to have anticipated that we could have addressed it across the board," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "Does it alleviate all your concerns, all your needs? No. But there's no team in the NFL that you're not going to look up at your board and have some concerns. I've got to look up at that board and feel pretty good about where we're at and what we can go into training camp with."

By taking Mercier, the Ravens shored up an offensive line that has to replace two starters, but made it clear that they were not locked in at choosing a guard with their first pick yesterday.

The 6-foot-2, 292-pound native of Montreal became the Ravens' first Canadian drafted because of his toughness and mobility.

He proved his lower-body strength with a 610-pound squat and displays unique agility, possibly coming from his background as a competitive skier. That's why the Ravens can foresee Mercier pulling to the outside and lead-block on a screen or a sweep.

The Ravens have had a bit of success with offensive linemen in the middle rounds as well, picking up left guard Edwin Mulitalo and center Jeff Mitchell in the draft's second day.

"Again, we selected the highest rated guy at that point," Newsome said. "It wasn't a big decision. If we would have had our pick in the fourth round, he could have been a consideration."

Said Billick: "Mercier is a good pickup in terms of depth. We have a lot of faith in Mike Flynn, too."

Growing up in Montreal, Mercier didn't participate in a full-fledged American version of the game until he went to Miami.

His only taste of this style before college was playing two years in a league that meshed American rules while playing on the larger dimensions of a Canadian field. It's a program that has already produced Carolina running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka.

"I'm really tenacious," said Mercier, who had a pre-draft visit with the Ravens and was selected in the second round of this year's Canadian Football League draft. "Coming from Montreal, I remember arriving in Miami as this average-sized lineman and everyone saying: `Who's this?' It's just a matter of proving yourself. And this is another level of that."

The Ravens broke a recent trend this year of picking defensive players first, waiting until the sixth round before thinking about adding to the NFL's second-ranked defense.

They opted for versatility in Thomas, the two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year who was projected by some to go in the third round.

He appears too small for defensive end, too inexperienced for linebacker yet, ultimately, too perfect for special teams to pass up. A pure pass-rushing specialist, Thomas collected 30 sacks in three seasons while using his leaping ability to block four kicks last year.

"He's one of the guys in the draft you would consider a tweener," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "We feel like he's a good athlete and he's somebody who can probably help us on special teams while we figure out where he's going to play."

Five picks after Thomas, the Ravens took Woodard. He played out of position last season as an end, and the Ravens are banking that he'll dominate on the inside like he did two years ago.

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound tackle had 35 solo tackles and 19 tackles for losses in 1998, sharing the Longhorns' Outstanding Defensive Lineman Award.

"When you get back to the '98 tapes, you saw some mobility inside to hold the point and get some push on the pocket," Savage said. "He showed that at the Hula Bowl with some moves to the inside. So we think he can come in and push some guys we already have on the roster."

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